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Full text of "Considerations on the keeping of Negroes : recommended to the professors of Christianity of every denomination"

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CONSIDERATIONS 



ON THE 



keepi:n'gi- of neghoesj 



RECOMMENDED TO THE 



PROFESSORS OF CHRISTIANITY OF EVERY 
DENOMINATION. 



" Forasmuch as ye did it to the least of tliese my brethren, ye did it unto me,"- 

Matt, ax v. 40. 



BY JOHN WOOLMAN. 



FIRST PRINTED IN THE YEAR 1754. 




PHILADELPHIA : 



PUBLISHED BY THE TRACT ASSOCIATION OF FRIENDS, 

AND TO BE HAD AT THEIR DEPOSITORY, 

No. 84, MULBERRY STREET. 



No.Sd. 



INTRODUCTORY REMARKS, BY THE AUTHOR. 

What I write on this subject is with reluctance, and the hints 
given are in as general terms as my concern would allow. I 
know it is a point about which, in all its branches, men that 
appear to aim well are not generally agreed ; and for that reason 
I chose to avoid being very particular. If I may happily let 
drop any thing that may excite such as are concerned in the 
practice to a close thinking on the subject treated of, the candid 
amongst them may easily do the subject such further justice, as 
on an impartial inquiry it may appear to deserve ; and such an 
inquiry I would earnestly recommend. 



[Tract No. 1, of this Series, is a Memoir of John Woolman.] 



CONSIDERATIONS 



ON 



THE KEEPING OF NEGROES. 



As many times there are different motives to the same action ; 
and one does that from a generous heart, which another does for 
selfish ends ; the like may be said in this case. 

There are various circumstances among those that keep ne- 
groes, and different ways by which they fall under their care ; 
and I doubt not, there are many well disposed persons amonofst 
them who desire rather to manage ^X'isely and justly in this diffi- 
cult matter, than to make gain of it. 

But the general disadvantage which these poor negroes lie 
under in an enhghtened Christian country, having often filled me 
with real sadness, I now think it my duty, through Di^nne aid, to 
offer some thoughts thereon to the consideration of others. 

When we remember that all nations are of one blood, (Gen. 
lii. 20,) that in this world we are but sojourners, that we are sub- 
ject to the like afflictions and infirmities of body, the like disorders 
and frailties in mind, the like temptations, the same death, and 
the same judgment, and that the all-wise Being is Judge and 
Lord over us all, it seems to raise an idea of general brotherhood, 
and a disposition easy to be touched with a feeling of each other's 
afflictions : but when we forget those things, and look chiefly at 
our outward circumstances, in this and some ages past, constantly 
retaining in our minds the distinction between us and them, with 
respect to our knowledge and improvement in things Divine, 
natural and artificial, our breasts being apt to be filled with fond 
notions of superioi ity, there is danger of erring in our conduct 
toward ihem. 

(3) 



( 4 ) 

We allow them to be of the same species with ourselves ; 
odds is, we are in a higher station, and enjoy greater favoi 
than they. And when it is thus that our heavenly Father e 
doweth some of his children with distinguished gifts, they a^v 
intended for good ends ; but if those thus gifted are thereby hfted 
Tip above their brethren, not considering themselves as debtors to 
the weak, nor behaving themselves as faithful stewards, none who 
judge impartially can suppose them free from ingratitude. 

When a people dwell under the liberal distribution of favours 
from heaven, it behoves them carefully to inspect their ways, and 
consider the purposes for which those favours are bestowed, lest, 
through forgetfulness of God and misusing his gifts, they incur 
his heavy displeasure, whose judgments are just and equal, who 
exalteth and humbleth to the dust, as he seeth meet. 

It appears, by Holy Record, that men under high favours have 
been apt to err in their opinions concerning others. Thus Israel, 
according to the description of the prophet, Isa. Ixv. 5, when ex- 
ceedingly corrupted and degenerated, yet remembered they were 
the chosen people of God ; and could say, " Stand by thyself, 
come not near me, for I am hoHer than thou." That this was 
no chance language, but their common opinion of other people, 
more fully appears, by considering the circumstances which at- 
tended when God was beginning to fulfil his precious promises 
concerning the gathering of the Gentiles. 

The Most High, in a vision, undeceived Peter, first prepared 
his heart to believe, and at the house of Cornelius showed him 
of a certainty that God is no respecter of persons. 

The effjsion of the Holy Ghost upon a people, with whom 
they, the Jewish Christians, would not so much as eat, was strange 
to them. All they of the circumcision were astonished to see it ; 
and the apostles and brethren of Judea contended with Petoi 
about it, till he having rehearsed the whole matter, and fully 
shown that the Father's love was unlimited, they are thereat 
struck with admiration, and cry out, " Then hath God also to the 
Gentiles granted repentance unto life." 

The opinion of peculiar favours being confined to them, was 
deeply rooted, or else the above instance had been less strange to 
them, for these reasons : First, They were generally acquainted 
with the writings of the prophets, by whom this time was repeat- 
edly spoken of, and pointed at. Secondly, Our blessed Lord 
shortly before expressly said, " I have other sheep, not of this 
fold, them also must I bring," &c. Lastly, His words to them 
after his resurrection, at the very time of his as'^ension, "Ye shall 



( 5 ) 

be witnesses to me, not only in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, 
but to the uttermost parts of the earth." 

These concurring circumstances, one would think, might have 
raised a strong expectation of seeing such a time ; yet when it 
came, it proved matter of offence and astonishment. 

To consider mankind otherwise than brethren, to think favours 
are peculiar to one nation, and to exclude others, plainly supposes 
a darkness in the understanding : for as God's love is universal, 
so where the mind is sufficiently influenced by it, it begets a like- 
ness of itself, and the heart is enlarged towards all men. Again, 
to conclude a people froward, perverse, and worse by nature than 
others, who ungratefully receive favours, and apply them to bad 
ends, will excite a behaviour toward them unbecoming the excel- 
lence of true religion. 

To prevent such an error, let us calmly consider their circum- 
stance : and the better to do it, make their case ours. Suppose 
then that our ancestors and we had been exposed to constant ser- 
vitude, in the more servile and inferior employments of life ; that 
we had been destitute of the help of reading and good company; 
that amongst ourselves we had had but few wise and pious in- 
structors ; that the rehgious amongst our superiors seldom took 
notice of us ; that while others in ease had plentifully heaped 
up the fruit of our labour, we had received barely enough to re- 
lieve nature ; and being wholly at the command of others, had 
generall}^ been treated as a contemptible, ignorant part of man- 
kind ; should we, in that case, be less abject than they now are I 
Again, if oppression be so hard to bear, that a wise man is made 
mad by it, Eccl. vii. 7, then a series of oppressions, altering the 
behaviour and manners of a people, is what may reasonably be 
expected. 

When our property is taken contrary to our mind, by means 
appearing to us unjust, it is only through Divine influence, and 
the enlargement of heart from thence proceeding, that we can 
love our reputed oppressors. If the negroes fall short in this, 
an uneasy, if not a disconsolate disposition will be awakened, 
and remain like seeds in their minds, producing sloth and other 
habits which appear odious to us ; and with which, had they 
been free men, they would not perhaps have been chargeable. 
These, and other circumstances, rightly considered, will lessen the 
too great disparity which some make between us and them. 

Integrity of heart has appeared in some of them ; so that if we 
continue in the word of Christ, and our conduct towards them be 
seasoned with his love, we may hope to see the good effect of it. 
No. 85.— 1 * 



( 6 ) 

This, in a good degree, is the case with some into whose hands 
they have faJlen ; hut that too many treat them otherwise, not 
seeming conscious of any neglect, is, alas ! too evident. 

AVhen self-love presides in our minds, our opinions are biassed 
in our own favour ; and in this condition, being concerned with 
a people so situated that they have no voice to plead their own 
cause, there is danger of using ourselves to an undisturbed par- 
tiahty, until, by long custom, the mind becomes reconciled with 
it, and the judgment itself infected. 

To apply humbly to God for wisdom, that we may thereby be 
enabled to see things as they are, and as they ought to be, is very 
needful. Hereby the hidden things of darkness may be brought 
to light, and the judgment made clear : we shall then consider 
mankind as brethren. Though different degrees and a variety 
of qualifications and abilities, one dependent on another, be ad- 
mitted, yet high thoughts will be laid aside, and all men treated 
as becometh the sons of one father, agreeably to the doctrine of 
Christ Jesus. 

"He hath laid do\ATi the best criterion, by which mankind 
ought to judge of their own conduct, and others judge for them 
of theirs, one towards another, viz. ' Whatsoever ye would that 
men should do unto you, do ye even so to them.' I take it, that 
all men by nature are equally entitled to the equity of this rule, 
and under the indispensable obhgations of it. One man ought 
not to look upon another man or society of men as so far beneath 
him that he should not put himself in their place, in all his ac- 
tions towards them, and bring all to this test, viz. How should I 
approve of this conduct, were I in their circumstance, and they 
in mine ?" 

This doctrine being of a moral unchangeable nature, hath been 
likewise inculcated in the former dispensation; "If a stranger 
sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him ; but the 
stranger that dwelleth with you shall be as one born amongst 
3'ou, and thou shalt love him as thyself." Had these people 
come voluntarily and dwelt amongst us, to call them strangers 
would be proper ; and their being brought by force, with regret 
and a languishing mind, may well raise compassion in a heart 
rightly disposed : but there is nothing in such treatment which, 
upon a wise and judicious consideration, will in any way lessen 
their right to be treated as strangers. If the treatment which 
many of them meet with be rightly examined, and compared 
with those precepts, "Thou shalt not vex him nor oppress him ; 
he shall be as one born amongst you, and thou shalt love him as 



( 1 ) 

thyself," there will appear an important difference between 
them. 

It may be objected that there is the cost of purchase, and ris:k 
of their lives to them who possess them, and therefore it is need- 
ful that they make the best use of their time. In a practice just 
and reasonable, such objections may have weight ; but if the 
work be wrong from the beginning, there is little or no force in 
them. If I purchase a man who has never forfeited his liberty, 
the natural right of freedom is in him ; and shall I keep him and 
his posterity in servitude and ignorance ? " How should I ap- 
prove of this conduct, were I in his circumstances, and he in 
mine ?" It may be thought, that to treat them as we would will- 
ingly be treated, our gain by them would be inconsiderable : 
and it were, in divers respects, better that there were none in 
our country. 

We may further consider, that they are now amongst us, and 
people of our nation were the cause of their being here ; that 
whatsoever difficulty accrues thereon, we are justly chargeable 
with, and to bear all inconveniences attending it with a serious 
and weighty concern of mind to do our duty by them, is the best 
we can do. To seek a remedy by continuing the oppression, 
because we have power to do it, and see others do it, w^ill, I 
aj^prehend, not be doing as we would be done by. 

How deeply soever men are involved in difficulties, sincerity 
of heart, and upright walking before God, freely submitting to 
his providence, is the most sure remedy. He only is able to re- 
lieve, not only persons, but nations in their greatest calamities. 

To act continually with integrity of heart, above all narrow or 
selfish motives, is a sure token of our being partakers of that 
salvation which " God hath appointed for wails and bulwarks," 
and is, beyond all contradiction, a more happy situation than can 
ever be promised by the utmost reach of art and power united, 
not proceeding from heavenly wisdom. 

A supply to nature's lawful w^ants, joined with a peaceful, 
humble mind, is the truest happiness in this life ; and if we ar- 
rive at this, and continue to walk in the path of the just, our case 
w^ll be truly happy. Though herein we may part with, or miss 
of the glaring show of riches, and leave our children little else 
but wise instructions, a good example, and the knowledge of 
some honest employment ; these, with the blessing of Providence, 
are sufficient for their happiness, and are more likely to prove so, 
than laying up treasures for them, which are often rather a snare 
than any real benefit ; especially to those who, instead of being 



( 8 ) 

exampled to temperance, are in all things taught to prefer the 
getting of riches, and to eye the temporal distinctions they give, 
as the principal business of this hfe. These readily overlook 
the true happiness of man, which results from the enjoyment of 
all things in the fear of God, and miserably substituting an infe 
rior good, dangerous in the acquiring and uncertain in the frui- 
tion, they are subject to many disappointments, and every sweet 
carries its sting. 

It is the conclusion of our blessed Lord and his apostles, as 
appears by their lives and doctrines, that the highest delights of 
sense, or most pleasing objects visible, ought ever to be accounted 
infinitely inferior to that real intellectual happiness, suited to man 
in his primitive innocence, and now to be found in true renova- 
tion of mind ; and that the comforts of our present life, the things 
most grateful to us, ought always to be received with temperance, 
and never made the chief objects of our desire, hope, or love ; 
but that our whole heart and affections be principally looking to 
that "city, which hath foundations, whose maker and builder is 
God." Did we so improve the gifts bestowed on us, that our 
children might have an education suited to these doctrines, and 
our example to confirm it, we might rejoice in hope of their 
being heirs of an inheritance incorruptible. 

This inheritance, as Christians, we esteem the most valuable ; 
and how then can we fail to desire it for our children ? O that 
we were consistent with ourselves, in pursuing the means neces- 
sary to obtain it ! 

It appears by experience, that where children are educated in 
fulness, ease, and idleness, evil habits are more prevalent than 
is common amongst such who are prudently employed in the 
necessary affairs of hfe. If children are not only educated in 
the way of so great temptation, but have also the opportunity of 
lording it over their fellow-creatures, and being masters of men 
in their childhood, how can we expect otherwise than that their 
tender minds will be possessed with thoughts too high for them ; 
which gaining strength by continuance, will prove like a slow 
current, gradually separating them from or keeping from acquaint- 
ance with that humility and meekness in which alone lasting hap- 
piness can be enjoyed. 

Man is born to labour, and experience abundantly showeth, 
that it is for our good : but where the powerful lay the burden 
on the inferior, without affording a Christian education, and suit- 
able opportunity of improving the mind, and a treatment which 
we, in their case, should approve, in order that themselves may 



( 9 ) 

live at ease, and fare sumptuously, and lay up riches for their 
posterity; this seems to contradict the design of Providence, and, 
I doubt not, is sometimes the effect of a perverted mind ; for wdiile 
the life of one is made grievous by the rigour of another, it entails 
misery on both. 

Amongst the manifold works of Providence, displayed in the 
different ages of the world, these which follow, with many others, 
may afford instruction. 

Abraham was called of God to leave his country and kindred, 
to sojourn amongst strangers. Through famine, and danger of 
death, he was forced to flee from one kingdom to another ; yet, 
at length, he not only had assurance of being the father of many 
nations, but became a mighty prince. (Gen. xxiii. 6.) 

Remarkable were the deahngs of God with Jacob in a low 
estate; the just sense he retained of them after his advancement, 
appears by his words : " I am not worthy of the least of all thy 
mercies." 

The numerous afflictions of Joseph are very singular; the 
particular providence of God therein, no less manifest: he at 
length became governor of Egypt, and famous for wisdom and 
virtue. 

The series of troubles which David passed through, few amongst 
us are ignorant of; and yet he afterwards became as one of the 
great men of the earth. 

Some evidences of the Divine wisdom appear in those things, 
in that such who are intended for high stations, have first been 
very low and dejected, that Truth might be sealed on their hearts; 
and that the characters there imprinted by bitterness and adver- 
sity, might in after years remain, suggesting compassionate ideas, 
and, in their prosperity, quicken their regard to those in the like 
condition. This yet further appears in the case of Israel ; who 
were well acquainted with grievous sufferings, a long and rigorous 
servitude ; and then, through many notable events, were made 
chief amongst the nations. To them we find a repetition of pre- 
cepts to the purpose abovesaid : though, for ends agreeable to in- 
finite wisdom, they were chosen as a peculiar people for a time ; 
yet the Most High acquaints them, that his love is not confined, 
but extends to the stranger ; and to excite their compassion, re- 
minds them of times past, "Ye were strangers in the land of 
Egypt." Again, "Thou shalt not oppress a stranger, for ye 
know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the 
land of Egypt." 

If we call to mind our beginning, some of us may find a time, 



( 10 ) 

wherein our fathers were under afflictions, reproaches, and mani- 
fold sufferings. 

Respecting our progress in this land, the time is short since our 
beginning was small and number few, compared with the native 
inhabitants. He that sleeps not by day nor night, hath watched 
over us, and kept us as the apple of his eye. His Almighty arm 
hath been round about us, and saved us from dangers. 

The wilderness and sohtary deserts in which our fathers passed 
the days of their pilgrimage, are now turned into pleasant fields ; 
and while many parts of the world have groaned under the hea\y 
calamities of war, our habitation remains quiet, and our land 
fruitful. 

When we trace back the steps we have trodden, and see how 
the Lord hath opened a way in the wilderness for us, to the wise 
it will easily appear, that all this was not done to be buried in 
oblivion, but to prepare a people for more fruitful returns ; and 
the remembrance thereof ought to humble us in prosperity, and 
excite in us a Christian benevolence towards our inferiors. 

If we do not consider these things aright, but through a stupid 
indolence, conceive views of interest separate from the general 
good of the great brotherhood, and, in pursuance thereof, treat our 
inferiors with rigour, to increase our wealth and gain riches for 
our children; "What then shall we do when God riseth up? 
and when he visiteth, what shall we answer him ? did not he that 
made us, make them? and did not one fashion us?" 

To our great Master we stand or fall, to judge or condemn us 
as is most suitable to his wisdom or authority ; my inclination is 
to persuade, and entreat, and simply give hints of my way of 
thinking. 

If the Christian religion be considered, both respecting its doc- 
trines and the happy influence which it hath on the minds and 
manners of all real Christians, it looks reasonable to think, that 
the miraculous manifestation thereof to the world is a kindness 
beyond expression. 

Are we the people thus favoured ? Are we they whose minds 
are opened, influenced, and governed by the Spirit of Christ, and 
thereby made sons of God ? Is it not a fair conclusion, that we, 
hke our heavenly Father, ought in our degree to be active in iLe 
same great cause of the eternal happiness of, at least, our whole 
families, and more, if thereto capacitated ? 

If we, by the operation of the Spirit of Christ, become heirs 
with him in the kingdom of his Father, and are redeemed from 
the alluring counterfeit joys of this Avorld, and the joy of Christ 



( 11 ) 

remain in us; to suppose that one in this happy condition can, 
for the sake of earthly riches, not only deprive his fellow-crea- 
tures of the sweetness of freedom, which, rightly used, is one of 
the greatest temporal blessings, but therewith neglect using pro- 
per means for their acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures, and 
the advantage of true religion, seems at least a contradiction to 
reason. 

Whoever rightly advocates the cause of some, thereby pro- 
motes the good of all. The state of mankind was harmonious 
in the beginning, and though sin hath introduced discord, yet 
through the wonderful love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, the 
■way is open for our redemption, and means appointed to restore 
us to primitive harmony. That if one suffer by the unfaithful- 
ness of another, the mind, the most noble part of him that occa- 
sions the discord, is thereby alienated from its true and real hap- 
piness. 

Our duty and interest are mseparably imited, and when we 
neglect or misuse our talents, we necessarily depart from the 
heavenly fellowship, and are in the way to the greatest of evils. 

Therefore to examine and prove ourselves, to find what har- 
mony the power presiding in us bears with the Divine nature, is 
a duty not more incumbent and necessary, than it would be 
beneficial. 

In Holy Writ the Divine Being saith of himself, " I am the 
Lord, which exercise loving-kindness, judgment and righteous- 
ness in the earth ; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord." 
Again, speaking in the way of man, to show his compassion to 
Israel, whose wickedness had occasioned a calamity, and then 
being humbled under it, it is said, " His soul was grieved for their 
miseries." If we consider the life of our blessed Saviour, when 
on earth, as it is recorded by his followers, we shall find that one 
uniform desire for the eternal and temporal good of mankind, 
discovered itself in all his actions. 

If we observe men, both apostles and others, in many different 
ages, who have really come to the unity of the Spirit, and the 
fellowship of the saints, there still appears the like disposition; 
and in them the desire for the real happiness of mankind has 
out-balanced the desire of ease, liberty, and, many times, of hfe 
itself. 

If, upon a true search, we find that our natures are so far re- 
newed, that to exercise righteousness and loving-kindness, accord- 
ing to our ability, towards all men, without respect of persons, is 
easy to us, or is our dehght ; if our love be so orderly and regu- 



( 13 ) 

lar, that he who doeth the will of our Father, who is in heaven, 
appears in our view to be our nearest relation, our brother, and 
sister, and mother ; if this be our case, there is a good foundation 
to hope, that the blessing of God will sweeten our treasures during 
our stay in this life, and that our memory will be savoury, when 
we are entered, into rest. 

To conclude. It is a truth most certain, that a life guided by 
wisdom from above, agreeably with justice, equity and mercy, is 
throughout consistent and amiable, and truly beneficial to society; 
the serenity and calmness of mind in it, affords an unparalleled 
comfort in this life, and the end of it is blessed. 

And it is no less true, that they who in the midst of high 
favours remain ungrateful, and under all the advantages that a 
Christian can desire, are selfish, earthly and sensual, do miss the 
true fountain of happiness, and wander in a maze of dark anx- 
iety, where all their treasures are insufficient to quiet their mmds ; 
hence, from an insatiable craving, they neglect doing good ,/ith 
what they have acquired, and too often add oppression to vanity, 
that they may compass more. 

" O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they 
would consider their latter end !" 



THB END. 



'(t-";'": 



S;-Ii 






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